Chris Bates’ Red 5 leads with bass


Photo by Randy Kramer

When jazz bassist Chris Bates decided to record his first release as a leader, he had a number of things in mind, including styles and elements he wanted to steer clear of.

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For his new ensemble Red 5, Bates -- who plays in the Atlantis Quartet and Red Planet -- took pains to avoid a recording of bass solos, the kind of albums other bassists made about 15 years ago.

The group's latest release, "New Hope," does feature the composer and his improvisations prominently. But Bates isn't playing melodies on every song, followed by a solo.

"The bass has a function in the music and I honor that, but I also provide my own voice as a composer," said Bates, whose group performs Friday and Saturday at St. Paul's Artists Quarter. "It's more satisfying to me to tell the story through my compositions rather than through an individual solo."

Instead, Bates surrounded himself with agile musicians who compliment his playing while delivering multi-layered textures on nine sophisticated tracks. They include saxophonists Chris Thomson and Brandon Wozniak, trumpeter Zack Lozier and his brother JT Bates on drums.

After years of providing the big pulse for the groups he plays in, the bassist decided not to include piano or guitar, two instruments that also play chords. That leaves plenty of room for the three horns to weave in and out of the tunes.

It makes for a different listening experience and one that focuses on the potential bass players have to continually transform a song.

"You're not necessarily featured as a soloist," Bates said of the instrument's traditional role. "You might get to play some unison lines with the band, but there's not necessarily that thing that happens [when people] realize, 'oh the bass player's on equal footing with the rest of these guys,' as far as his chops and his ability to improvise or play with different things."

With Red 5, Bates puts the bass in a new light.

My radio piece on Chris Bates' Red 5 airs this week on MPR News 91.1 FM. Stay tuned.